Shuls: If no one needs them, let them slip away
I arrived at Kutz, where I will remain until the middle of August, from Limmud Colorado on Monday evening. To follow up on my post last week, I was pretty much right. Demographically, it was not as old as what I experienced at Limmud Philly and not as young as Limmud NY. There was this whole lovely cohort of young families as well, mostly crunchy-Orthodox from Boulder. Indeed, as I had guessed, there was a great spirit of cooperation and pluralism endemic to the Colorado Jewish community.
I attended one panel discussion in particular that hilighted this quality. The discussion was called, “What really happened at Mt. Sinai?” The three Rabbis on the panel were the three Rabbis of Boulder; Josh Rose (Reform), Marc Soloway (Conservative) and Gavriel Goldfeder (Modern Orthodox). I was delighted to see that they were all clearly very close friends. They study together and share meals together. The discussion was great. Although each announced fervently at the beginning that they would not toe their movement’s line, they kind of did. But more fascinating than the discussion, was the glimpse into a small Jewish community where everyone seems to go to everyone else’s programs.
There was also a panel that featured Professor Ari Kelman (studies twenty- and thirty-something Jews), Josh Fein (co-founded Denver traditional egalitarian Minyan Na’aleh), and Naomi Soetendorp (co-founded “post-philanthropic” London minyan Wandering Jews). The panel was called “DIY Jewish community,” and promised to feature a discussion by these folks of how Jews are creating these sorts of independent prayer communities. Also in the room, to see the discussion, were a number of Denver and Boulder rabbis. Though one rabbi expressly stated he was there because he likes the feeling at indy minyans and merely wants to see if there are ways he can bring that feeling to his shul, two others took a rather different attitude.
These two, one more vehemently than the other, were stone-cold baffled by why Jews that go to Minyan Na’aleh weren’t going to their established, institutional Denver shuls. They essentially asked what they could do to bring the Na’aleh folks “back” to shul. The panel unanimously said, of course, “If we’re not there, but we’re getting what we need at our minyanim, what are you concerned about? Why define success as getting more Jews to come to your shul than any other?”
Josh, as it turns out, has a kid. Aside from helping to organize Na’aleh, he belongs to a coulple different Denver shuls. One is were his kid goes to Sunday school and another one has a Tot Shabat that he and his wife like. The panel begged the question, “Why do we have to choose one? Why not daven at an indy minyan on Friday nights, go to one shul on Saturday morning, and send our kids to another for school?” Naomi suggested a sort of Jewish community Oyster Card.
Naomi also made an interesting point about her group, Wandering Jews, which she called at one point an “existential minyan.” By this she meant that they have often explicitly given thought to the fact of their group’s existence. The name refers to the fact that the minyan has never been hosted in the same house or flat twice–it wanders. And Naomi said that they don’t try intensely hard to organize the potluck dinner that follows or to make sure there’s a host for next month. “If people need it, they will take care of it, hosting it and bringing food for the potlock. I’m not going to get worked up about the existence of Wandering Jews. If no one needs it, let it slip away,” she said. And she said the same goes for shuls.
A final aside: Everyone on the panel was a child of a Rabbi. Hm.